Photography by Emily Sobecki
On a bright, sunny morning, 8-year-old LuLa Jane Kimmey sat outside her Dowagiac home, crocheting together white and blue yarn. Fastened around the strap of her dress was a model of what the yarn she was knitting would become — a small pouch adorned with bulging eyeballs and fabric brows. Affectionately called a Germ Monster, the creature serves one purpose in life: to help people fight germs and bacteria.
LuLa Jane, along with her mother, Tanya Kimmey, and the rest of her family, recently launched Germ Monsters, a business creating and selling hand-crocheted hand sanitizer pouches decorated to look like monsters. The monsters, which can be found in an array of styles and colors, are available for purchase on the Germ Monsters Etsy page and at Who Knew? Consignment in downtown Dowagiac.
“We make the monsters, design them, crochet them, and then you put hand sanitizer in it,” LuLa Jane says. “I want to grow up and be a pediatrician and help children get healthy, but I want to start my helping right now. This virus has all of us wanting to do our part. I know that clean hands are really, really important.”
According to LuLa Jane’s mother, Tanya, the idea for Germ Monsters came about as a way to ensure her children always had their hand sanitizer on them during the pandemic and to keep them from having to rummage through their backpacks looking for it with dirty hands.
“I have a compromised immune system because I am a cancer survivor,” Tanya says. “I know the importance of staying clean of germs and viruses. Learning what we could do and how the kids could integrate it safely and creatively for themselves was probably vital for me.”
Giving is at the heart of Germ Monsters’ business model, according to Tanya. The family has given away Germ Monsters to postal workers, delivery drivers, teachers and other essential workers, and hopes to continue to donate throughout the holiday season and beyond.
Tanya says she is proud to see her children participating so heavily in the project and giving back to their community.
“The whole goal is giving,” she says. “The thought process has been how can we give back and pay it forward and make sure we are utilizing ourselves with good energy and good focus during this pandemic? This was one thing that we could do.”
Now, each sale supports the family’s ultimate goal of donating 140 Germ Monsters to the Timbers of Cass County, a nursing home located in Dowagiac.
Tanya says she was inspired to donate to Timbers as the staff cared for the family’s grandfather, Boppa Jack, before his death in April.
“They took phenomenal care of him. They were our heart, our hands, and they gave him dignity when we couldn’t be with him [due to COVID-19 restrictions],” Tanya says through tears. “This pandemic is so crazy. You see it on TV, but when it gets real, when you can’t hold the hand of someone you love, that’s when you know you have to do something. So, we had to focus our energy toward giving back to the people at Timbers.”
The Kimmey family’s goal is to donate one Germ Monster for every employee working at Timbers. To make so many will take time, money and resources, so the family has been working to spread the word about Germ Monsters far and wide — and spread it has. So far, LuLa Jane and the rest of the Kimmey family have received dozens of thank-you notes from customers and those who they have gifted Germ Monsters to, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling.
With each sale of a Germ Monster that brings them closer to their goal of donating to the Timbers, Tanya says she hopes her family can brighten the pandemic for someone, even just a little bit.
“This is something that seems little, but it really is big,” Tanya says. “We know that with every stitch we put in, we put in laughter and giggles and love and protection and prayer and well wishes. We make sure that in every monster that we have sent, from here to Scotland, we make sure that goodness is spread because there is so much that isn’t right now. It’s vital that my children learn that it isn’t about the problems you face; it’s about what you do and our response to it. And this is our response to what is happening.”